There is a word that I feel is entirely unhelpful when discussing board games, that nonetheless finds itself into practically every discussion on the topic.
That word is ‘Fun’.
‘Fun’ is highly subjective word. People use this word to recommend games to others, to let them know that they had an enjoyable experience. In effect, when people use the word ‘fun’, they are saying ‘I can’t describe exactly why I enjoyed this, but I did, and I think you would too.’ Their intentions are noble, but not always well-placed. At best, you’ll try the game and enjoy it as well! At worst, you won’t enjoy it, and you will say, ‘No, that game, and by extension the hobby of boardgaming, is Not Fun.’
One much-maligned board game is Munchkin. For many boardgamers, Munchkin is one of the first games they really enjoyed, and they have fond memories of it. They recall being inches away from winning before one of their friends sabotaged them, of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, of being the thorn in the side of their opponent and exulting in their misfortune. So, many people go away from Munchkin and think to themselves, ‘That game was fun!’
Then, when other, more serious boardgamers tell them ‘Sorry, Munchkin isn’t fun’, these people feel offended, and rightly so. They had fun! They’d remember if they didn’t have fun. How can Munchkin be both ‘fun’ and ‘not fun’ simultaneously? Who are these stodgy grognards who have set themselves up as the final arbiters of fun, anyway? In this way, the word ‘fun’ can drive a wedge between people who otherwise should be enjoying their hobby together.
If two people can describe a game as being both ‘fun’ and ‘not fun’, ‘fun’ must be the result of an individual’s response to a game, and not the game itself. It can be a helpful word if you happen to know the tastes of the person you are talking to, but most reviews are written for anonymous audiences. You can’t know whether someone will find a game fun when you don’t even know who they are, so it’s much better to describe what makes it fun instead.
In writing board game summaries for Tea and Board Games, I have tried to avoid using the word ‘fun’ as much as possible. To my knowledge, there are only three summaries that even feature the word (try finding them yourself!). Instead, I’ve tried to describe what makes the game fun. What kind of player interaction does it have? Do you have a strong sense of agency within the game? Does it allow for social interaction and creativity? Answering these questions give much better indications of whether someone will like a game rather than falling back on the word ‘fun’.
Maybe you enjoy tense games, like Space Alert or Escape. Maybe you’d rather something light-hearted, like A la Carte or Animal upon Animal, maybe you’d prefer a brain-burner you can really sink your metaphorical teeth into for hours on end, like Through the Ages or Mage Knight. Games can be polarising, and the game that you personally enjoy the most is likely to be a truly miserable experience to someone else out there.
The best policy is to just try new games and work out what you enjoy. Think a bit more about what you enjoyed, and why, and discuss your reasoning with others. Your own personal journey in working out what you enjoy is what makes the hobby of boardgaming so compelling, and it’s a journey I hope to be making for a long time to come.
Then again, that’s just the kind of thing I find fun.